“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues. We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.
Once a month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years. We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings, New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format. We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases.
Three Bishops Speak At New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium, 1992
As I hope you know by now, New Ways Ministry will be hosting its Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago. Thus, it seems an appropriate time to turn our clocks back 25 years and look at the Third National Symposium, back in March 1992, which also took place in Chicago.
The Third National Symposium was historic in that it was the first time that three Catholic bishops came to a forum to speak about what was then understood as lesbian and gay issues in the Church. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary of Detroit, Bishop William Hughes, diocesan bishop of Covington, Kentucky, and Bishop Kenneth Untener, diocesan bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, all were there to present “his viewpoint on the pastoral reality of the church’s ministry to members of the gay and lesbian community, ” according to a news report by Ed Stieritz, printed in the April 5, 1992 edition of The Messenger, the Catholic newspaper of Davenport, Iowa.
It was at that symposium where Bishop Gumbleton first told the story of his and his family’s response to learning that his brother Dan is gay, which began the bishop’s career of public advocacy for LGBT equality. The Messenger reported:
“Bishop Gumbleton shared, poignantly, how he had reacted when his brother told members of his family of his homosexual orientation. He admitted he had the same difficulty that most family members have when faced with such a revelation. Now, he said, he has come to appreciate the great gifts his brother brings to both the family and the Church as well as the lessons of tolerance and understanding that they have all learned as a result of his brother’s ‘coming out.’ “
Bishop Hughes acknowledged that the Catholic Church had been remiss in affirming lesbian and gay people. The newspaper quoted from his talk:
“. . . [W]e’re in a period of change when the Church is recognizing more and more the need to deal with people primarily as ‘persons.’ We are all part of the Body of Christ, and if one suffers–all suffer.”
In a sidebar story, Bishop Hughes was asked why he decided to attend the symposium. His answer:
“I felt that when I am invited to go to any people who are hurting or suffering in their relationship with the church, I am going to make sure I am present to say ‘the church cares about you.’ We are an inclusive church, which means we reach out to everybody.”
Bishop Untener also stressed the theme of inclusivity, but also took a look at what he believes God uses to judge us. He said:
“Since I am a theologian, I don’t say this lightly, but I have come to truly believe that when we die the only thing that will matter in the end will be how we have treated one another.”
In Voices of Hope, a collection of church statements on lesbian and gay issues edited by New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent (out of print, but used copies may be found online), a very insightful passage of Bishop Untener’s talk was cited:
“We need to take seriously the evaluation that homosexuality is a complex question, yet I do not believe we always do. We have to be careful not to make life too simple. The Pharisees made that mistake. They made religion very complex, but treated life as though it were simple. They had complex rules about what one could or could not do and thought these could apply very simply to life. The complexity of their religious formulations took care of everything, and the rest, they thought, was simple.
“Jesus did exactly the opposite. His religious teachings were very simple. He said that all the commandments of the law came down to two: love of God and love of neighbor. When they asked Him enormously complex questions, he would say, ‘Let me tell you a story. . . ‘
“On the other hand, Jesus treated life as very complex, as His parables show. For example, the parable of the prodigal son was so simple until He introduced the last scene with the complexity of the older brother. And Jesus left it there. The parable ends with the older brother and the father still arguing out in the yard.”
The Third National Symposium was an exciting event at a time when lesbian and gay issues were just being brought into the mainstream of the Catholic Church’s life. The upcoming Eighth National Symposium promises to be just as exciting. In fact, Bishop Gumbleton will again be at the meeting to share his powerful reflections with the participants. And although Bishop Hughes has since passed on, another Kentucky church leader, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. will be there to offer inspiration.
For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org. Register before March 27th to avoid paying an additional $50 late fee.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 23, 2017